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In re M.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 5, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF M.C., Minor Child, M.J., Father, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Christine Dalton, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals from the juvenile court's order terminating his parental rights to his child. AFFIRMED.

          Timothy J. Tupper of Tupper Law Firm, Davenport, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Gretchen W. Kraemer and Janet L. Hoffman (until withdrawal), Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee State.

          Charles F. Elles, Bettendorf, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          MULLINS, Presiding Judge.

         A father appeals the juvenile court's order terminating his parental rights to his child, M.C., born in 2015. He argues the State did not make reasonable efforts to reunify him with his child because it failed to provide visitation or services and failed to timely investigate appropriate relative placements. He also claims his constitutional due process rights were violated because of the State's alleged failure to make reasonable efforts.

         In September 2015, M.C. was only a few months old when her mother voluntarily placed her and the mother's older child, C.R., with Safe Families for Children[1] because she was homeless and suffering from mental illness. The mother was unable to resume care of her children, and the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) assumed their custody because the father was incarcerated pending a probation revocation hearing.[2] In January 2016, M.C. was placed in family foster care while C.R. remained with her host family, who later obtained a foster care license to continue caring for her.

         In April 2016, the juvenile court adjudicated both children CINA. M.C.'s father remained in prison throughout her CINA case. In October, the court held a combined permanency and termination hearing. In December, the juvenile court terminated M.C.'s father's parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(e) and (h) (2016).[3]

         We review termination-of-parental-rights proceedings de novo. In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219 (Iowa 2016). When a court terminates parental rights on more than one ground, we may affirm the order on any of the statutory grounds supported by clear and convincing evidence. In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 707 (Iowa 2010). "We are not bound by the juvenile court's findings of fact, but we do give them weight, especially in assessing the credibility of witnesses." In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d at 219 (quoting In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014)). Our primary consideration is the best interests of the child. In re J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006).

         The father claims the State failed to prove it offered reasonable efforts to reunify him with his child and achieve permanency. Specifically, he complains DHS did not provide him any visits with his child while he was incarcerated or offer any parenting services. He also complains he repeatedly asked DHS to place M.C. with various paternal relatives, all of whom lived out of state, but DHS failed to timely investigate and place the child with appropriate family members.

         The State must make reasonable efforts to reunify the family as quickly as possible after a child has been removed from his or her parents' care and custody. Iowa Code § 232.102(7). The reasonable-efforts requirement is not, however, "viewed as a strict substantive requirement of termination." In re C.B., 611 N.W.2d 489, 493 (Iowa 2000). Instead, it "impacts the [State's] burden of proving those elements of termination which require reasonable efforts." Id. In determining whether reasonable efforts have been made, the court considers "[t]he type, duration, and intensity of services or support offered or provided to the child and the child's family." Iowa Code § 232.102(10)(a)(1). "[T]he nature and extent of visitation is always controlled by the best interests of the child." In re M.B., 553 N.W.2d 343, 345 (Iowa Ct. App. 1996).

         Under section 232.116(1)(h), the court may terminate parental rights if the court finds the State has proved by clear and convincing evidence the child (1) is three years old or younger; (2) has been adjudicated CINA; (3) has been removed from the physical custody of the parents for at least six of the last twelve months, or the last six consecutive months and any trial period at home has been less than thirty days; and (4) cannot be returned to the custody of the parents at the time of the termination hearing. With regard to termination under this paragraph, "[t]he State must show reasonable efforts as part ...


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